—Bryan E. Robinson
Work as we know it got turned upside down during the pandemic. An exhausted work force, burning the midnight oil at home, claim they became modern-day workaholics (40% by one account). Those who were already self-described workaholics found their condition exacerbated. New data from Visier found that the pandemic has created widespread remote work with burnout at epidemic proportions (89%) and a major resignation rate as a result.
And according to a new study by Skynova an exhausted workforce is burning themselves out. The survey polled over 1,000 remote employees and found that after a year into the pandemic, many remote professionals are struggling to disconnect from work and looking for employment elsewhere—conditions detrimental to their productivity and job satisfaction. Over seven in 10 remote workers said they were unable to disconnect from work at night.
Just as leaders were nearly complete with return-to-the-office plans, the Delta variant caused a whiplash. Companies like Amazon, Google, and Apple, eager to call employees back, have delayed office re-openings as COVID-19 infections keep rising. Wall Street firms, which have been among the most adamant that employees return to the office, are reconsidering plans, with J. P. Morgan reportedly reevaluating its post-Labor Day policy. To make this transition as easy as possible, companies are suggesting—even requiring—that more employees work from home.
As the debate continues on how companies respond to these twists and turns, David Powell, president of Prodoscore, reminds leaders that employee productivity is predictable, regardless of where they’re working. “With the Delta variant spread and the stress of making the correct decision, business leaders need to know that despite concerns, the least of their worries should be their employees’ productivity,” he said. “Our data proves that despite location, productivity is a personal matter. If an employee was highly productive in-office, they’ll be productive at home; if an employee slacked off at the office, they’ll be doing the same at home. In fact, after evaluating over 105 million data points from 30,000 U.S.-based Prodoscore users, we discovered a 5% increase in productivity during the pandemic work from home period. Although, as we know, any variant of the Covid-19 virus is unpredictable, employee productivity is not.”
So how can you create a productive work space wherever you toil? At home you’re in your personal space, not your usual professional environment. Laundry needs to be done, dishes washed and the house cleaned. Plus, maybe you want to see The View since you’re always at the office when it’s on, or there’s a good movie on Netflix you’ve been longing to watch. Your pooch needs to go for a walk or you want to snuggle with him. And your spouse keeps yelling questions from another room, causing you to keep loosing your train of thought. Or on the flip side, maybe since being at home 24/7, you find yourself toiling overtime on the job long after you usually would have called it quits at the office. Here are a few tips for optimal productivity:
- Establish a designated work space. Confine your work to a specific area in your home so your job doesn’t intrude into the lives of other household members and you can concentrate. Have a space that you designate as your workstation instead of checking emails, voicemails, texting in front of TV, or spreading work out on the kitchen table. After hours, keep your work space at arm’s length as if it’s five miles across town. Resist the temptation to check texts and emails after logging off at the end of the workday. If possible, only go to your designated space when you need to work. After a long workday, make it a practice to put away electronic devices and work tools just as you would store carpentry tools after building shelves or baking ingredients after making a cake. Putting work reminders out of sight keeps them out of mind and helps you relax and recharge your batteries.
- Put limits on distracting sounds. Block the neighbor’s barking mutt, excess noise from household members or ambient traffic with noise cancelling devices such as head phones, white noise machines or ear buds. Studies show a delicate blend of soft music combined with soothing nature sounds—such as waterfalls, raindrops, a rushing brook, or ocean waves—activates the calming part of your brain, helps you concentrate and lowers heart rate and blood pressure.
- Practice the acronym W.A.I.T. Since being at home 24/7 you might find yourself toiling overtime on the job long after you usually would have called it quits at the office. If overworking becomes a pattern, use the acronym, W.A.I.T. (Why Am I Toiling)? The answers could be that you’re avoiding facing the home chores that piled up while working. You might be putting yourself under pressure to finish a project. Or perhaps you’ve bitten off more than you can chew. Regardless of the reason, try to maintain the same hours you log in at the office, so you don’t get swallowed up by the workload.
- Practice self-care. Many of us have forfeited our daily self-care routines during the pandemic restrictions. It’s important to keep them or put them back in place. A new study recommends a minimum of 30 minutes of extra light activity per day and five minutes of movement each hour throughout the day to mitigate COVID-19 restrictions and inactivity. Research also shows the value of what scientists call “microbreaks” throughout the workday. After hours of sitting, short breaks—I recommend five minutes or less—are effective energy management strategies and can be as simple as stretching, walking up and down stairs, gazing out a window at nature, snacking, deep breathing, yoga, or having a five minute mindful meditation.
When it comes to work/life balance, your overarching ally is your perspective. It can victimize you or empower you. Tunnel vision can impede your tranquility, happiness and productivity. Instead of focusing on balance problems, keep the big picture where healthy solutions lie. When you look for the upside in a downside situation and figure out what you can control and what you can’t, it’s easier to accept circumstances beyond your control. Your power lies in finding the opportunity in the difficulty during an uncontrollable situation instead of the difficulty in the opportunity.
Bryan E. Robinson, Ph.D., is Professor Emeritus at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte and a psychotherapist in private practice. He is the author of over 35 books, including The Smart Guide to Managing Stress and his debut novel, Limestone Gumption. He hosted the PBS documentary, Overdoing It: When Work Rules Your Life and has appeared on 20/20, Good Morning America, WorldNews Tonight, NBC Nightly News, and The Early Show. He is the author of Chained to the Desk: A Guidebook for Workaholics, Their Partners and Children, and the Clinicians Who Treat Them.